Two friends sit together with one of them trauma dumping about their traumatic experiences

What is Trauma Dumping?

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Venting about stress is one thing; trauma dumping is another. Here's how you can avoid it.

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Trauma dumping is the act of sharing traumatic experiences with others in an attempt to relieve oneself of the burden of the trauma. Sometimes referred to as emotional dumping, the term is often used in a negative light, as it can be seen as an act of selfishness or a way of seeking attention. It's also an increasingly popular term being shared on social media, as candid conversations about trauma dumping, trauma survivors, and other mental health topics related to trauma grow in popularity. Here's what you need to know.

What is trauma dumping?

Trauma dumping is the act of releasing pent-up emotions and stressors related to trauma all at once, usually onto someone else. It can be an incredibly overwhelming and confusing experience for both the person dumping their trauma and for the person on the receiving end. Trauma dumping can happen in any kind of relationship--including with coworkers, an acquaintance, or even with a social media audience--but is most common in close, intimate relationships. Trauma dumping can be the result of living with post traumatic stress disorder, a consequence of having experienced secondary trauma, struggling with obsessive compulsive disorder, or trying to process a toxic relationship.

But how do you know when normal venting about an experience becomes trauma dumping?

If you're the person talking about a traumatic event, you may feel like you're reliving it. This can happen even when you're just talking about what happened. You may feel like you're back in the situation, and it can be hard to shake off. Second, you may find that you're fixated on the event. You may be thinking about it all the time or that it’s hard to think about anything else.

Fixating too much on trauma can have serious consequences on your mental health and relationships. Venting is one thing, but when conversations in your relationships are constantly defined by reliving trauma, it may get in the way of healing and healthy mental health. It's important to meet with a mental health professional if you feel as if a traumatic experience is taking over your relationships. Remember: it can be helpful to talk about our experiences, but it's important to know when it's time to stop.

Why do people trauma dump?

There are a few reasons why someone might trauma dump. Sometimes it can be a way to avoid feeling the pain or hurt that comes with processing trauma. It can also be a way to offload all of the emotions and stress that come with being a trauma survivor. And in some cases, though very rare, it can be a way to control or manipulate the other person. This isn’t to say that talking about trauma is inherently manipulative but rather that sometimes people with narcissistic personality disorder or histrionic personality disorder leverage trauma dumping in a negative way.

Whatever the reason, trauma dumping is not a healthy way to cope. It can damage relationships and leave both parties feeling even more hurt and alone.

Emotional or trauma dumping might also occur when someone feels like they need to get the story off their chest, or they want to warn others about what happened to them. Sometimes people overshare in an attempt to get sympathy or validation from others. It's important to remember that everyone deals with trauma differently, and there is no right or wrong way to cope. Some people find it helpful to talk about their experiences, while others prefer to keep them private. 

At the same time, there are also positive aspects to trauma dumping. For instance, it can be a way of seeking support from others who have been through similar experiences. It can also be a way of helping others to understand and empathize with what you have been through. There is no right or wrong way to deal with trauma. Some people find it helpful to talk about their experiences, while others prefer to keep them to themselves. There is no shame in either approach. However, it is important to be mindful of how you go about sharing your experiences. It is possible to unintentionally hurt or trigger someone by sharing too much too soon. Ultimately, talking with a therapist might be the best way to process painful experiences and learn better coping skills. There is no wrong way to deal with trauma, as long as you are taking care of yourself and not hurting yourself or others in the process.

Consequences of trauma dumping

There are a few consequences of trauma dumping to friends and family. 

The first is that the person who is trauma dumping may feel like they are unloading a burden, but in reality, they are often just putting that burden onto someone else. This can lead to the person who is trauma dumping feeling like they are a burden to their friends and family, which can further damage their self-esteem and sense of worth. Additionally, trauma dumping can lead to the person feeling more isolated and alone, as they may feel like their friends and family can't or won't understand what they're going through. Finally, trauma dumping can also lead to the person re-experiencing their trauma, as they may relive the trauma through their friends' and families' reaction.

If you're struggling with finding a healthy way to process, seeking care with a therapist for emotional dumping or any other mental health issues may greatly improve your relationships and wellbeing.

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Trauma dumping and fawning: responding to traumatic events

As we’ve covered, trauma or emotional dumping is often a direct result of having survived trauma. Trauma dumping itself, however, is often merely one side effect of a broader, clinically-identifiable response. When a person experiences trauma, mental health professionals have categorized three main trauma responses: 

Fight responses are characterized by an individual feeling angry and aggressive. 

They may lash out or become violent in order to protect themselves. 

Flight responses are characterized by an individual feeling scared and wanting to flee the situation. 

They may try to runaway or hide from the source of their trauma. 

Freeze responses are characterized by an individual feeling paralyzed or stuck. 

They may feel like they cannot move or they may dissociate from the situation. 

A fourth response to trauma has more recently been identified: fawning. Fawn responses are characterized by an individual feeling submissive and compliant. They may try to please the source of their trauma or they may try to avoid conflict. When someone has been through a traumatic experience, they may become more submissive or believe that if they please others, they can avoid future pain or trauma. This can be a way of coping with the trauma and trying to avoid further hurt.

Fawning can also be a sign of low self-esteem. People who fawn over others may do so because they feel inferior and are trying to seek approval. This can be a destructive pattern, as it can lead to people being taken advantage of or mistreated. 

Trauma dumping can go hand-in-hand with fawning, as those who have survived a traumatic experience might resort to trauma dumping in order to create a sense of connection. Trauma responses are often experienced in a sequence, but not always. There is no wrong or right way to respond to trauma, as each response is a natural and instinctual reaction.

What to do when emotional dumping happens

When talking about or listening to someone else's trauma, it is important to be respectful and mindful of the person's experiences. It is not helpful to ask probing questions or to be dismissive. It is important to be supportive and provide a safe space for the person to share their experiences. When talking about trauma, it is also important to be aware of your own triggers and to be mindful of how your own experiences may be impacting the conversation. It is not helpful to force someone to relive their trauma or to offer unsolicited advice. It is important to be a good listener and to provide support and understanding. Finally, it is important to remember that everyone reacts to trauma differently, even if they didn't experience the traumatic experience themself.

When someone trauma dumps to you, it is important to be respectful and understand that they are going through a difficult time. You can offer support and listen to their story, but you should also respect their boundaries. It is okay to feel uncomfortable when someone trauma dumps, and you can gently let the person know that you need to take a step back. You can also offer to find resources or support groups for them.

A friend consoles another friend after they trauma dumped

How to avoid trauma dumping

There are a few things you can do to avoid trauma dumping:

1. Don't keep your trauma to yourself. Talk to someone you trust about what you're going through. This can help you process your feelings and can prevent feeling overwhelmed.

2. Don't bottle up your emotions. Find healthy ways to express how you're feeling, such as writing, painting, or exercising.

3. Seek professional help. A therapist can help you work through your trauma in a safe and supportive environment.

4. Take care of yourself. Make sure to eat healthy, get enough sleep, and exercise. This will help you to feel physically and emotionally stronger.

5. Don't be afraid to ask for help. There is no shame in seeking support from others.

Mental health & setting boundaries

In order to have healthy relationships - whether it be with a romantic partner, family member, close friend, or even just acquaintance - it is important to have boundaries, especially if trauma dumping is a concern. People with healthy boundaries are able to say "no" when they need to, set personal limits, and stick to them. People who have unhealthy boundaries, on the other hand, may have difficulty saying "no," may have trouble sticking to personal limits, or may trauma dump to the point of eroding their relationships.

There are a number of reasons why having healthy boundaries is important in a healthy friendship or other relationship: 

It allows each person to maintain a sense of individuality and autonomy. 

Everyone needs some time and space to themselves, and healthy boundaries allow for that. 

It helps to prevent conflict and misunderstanding. 

When each person knows and respects the other's boundaries, it is less likely that there will be conflict. 

Healthy boundaries help to create a sense of safety and trust in a relationship. 

When each person feels like they can be themselves and be respected, it creates a stronger bond.

Mental health and trauma are critical areas where having healthy boundaries is important. People with healthy boundaries are more likely to have a positive self-image and a healthy sense of self-worth, which both contribute to healing from past trauma.

How to turn trauma dumping into authentic connections

When we've experienced trauma, it can be difficult to feel safe and connected with others. We may feel like we need to keep our guard up all the time or that we're not worthy of authentic connection. However, there are steps we can take to turn trauma dumping into authentic connections. Here’s how:

Become aware of your triggers 

What are the things that make us feel unsafe or disconnected? Once we know our triggers, we can begin to work on managing them. This may involve things like meditation, journaling, or therapy. 

Practice self-compassion 

Often, when we've experienced trauma, we are our own worst critic. We need to learn to be gentle with ourselves and to forgive ourselves for our mistakes. 

Reach out to others

This can be difficult, but it's important to remember that we're not alone. There are people who care about us and who want to help us heal. We can find support groups, therapy, or even just friends to talk to. By taking these steps, we can begin to turn trauma dumping into authentic connections.

Trauma support at Charlie Health

You don't have to process trauma alone.

At Charlie Health, our team of mental health professionals specialize in and expertly curate trauma-informed virtual therapy programs designed to meet you where you are. Through a combination of supported groups, individual therapy, and family therapy multiple times per week, our virtual intensive outpatient program (IOP) may be the solution if trauma dumping is interfering with your relationships.

We're here for you, 24/7. Get started now.

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